Huskers’ director of sports psychology encourages mental health training during pandemic


LINCOLN – Dr. Brett Haskell tells Nebraska’s student-athletes the same thing all the time.
“You know the brain is an organ in your body.”

So that’s why Nebraska’s director of sports psychology dedicates so much into helping those same athletes stay mentally focused.

“Sometimes when you neglect to train the brain, it neglects other things you want the body to do under high pressure situations,” Haskell said.

Haskell has been leading the Huskers’ sports psychology department for two years and is now a member of the Big Ten’s recently announced Mental Health and Wellness Cabinet along with Nebraska’s associate of sports psychology Dr. Brett Woods. The cabinet consists of representatives from all 14 Big Ten schools, plus Notre Dame and John Hopkins.

The initiative focuses on an app called “Calm”, which provides its users with meditation practices.

“There’s a lot of ‘buy in’ in sports right now around those concepts, from a mental training standpoint,” Haskell said. “So we figured we could access that for regular and consistent training for staff and student-athletes, that would have the biggest ‘bang for your buck’ right away.

This comes at a perfect time for student-athletes who have been struggling with the country’s current conditions.

“It’s a stressful situation,” Haskell said. “Uncertainty is hard for everyone.”

The coronavirus continues to delay any team activities until at least June 1st after the Big Ten extended it’s latest suspension on Monday.

Haskell knows the anxiety that can come with playing the waiting game.

“For our athletes, there’s so much unpredictability,” Haskell said. “They thrive on routine, consistency and structure. They have very little of that right now.”

However, there are still positives to take away.

Haskell and her department provide virtual options for student-athletes and staff members that range from Zoom sessions to educational videos to the launch of a brand new podcast. The debut episode featured Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook.

“He keeps me abreast on what’s going on social media on mental health,” Haskell said. “So he sends me all the updates.”

Haskell also continues to encourage student-athletes to prepare their brains for when sports do eventually return.

“The way we respond mentally and emotionally to uncertainty, and difficult environments, and adversity is actually something we can train really well right now because we have lots of that,” Haskell said.

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